Legislative efforts to punish ASA over boycott of Israel pick up steam

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, at center, at the Salute to Israel Parade last year. (Photo: Roy Renna/BMR)

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, at center, at the Salute to Israel Parade last year. (Photo: Roy Renna/BMR)

The backlash against the American Studies Association’s (ASA) decision to boycott Israel has started to migrate from the ivory tower to the halls of state power.

The most powerful state legislator in Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, announced Friday that he plans to introduce a bill that would target the ASA. His bill would seek to prohibit state funding from going to the academic group.  And a Congressional letter circulating in Washington that condemns the academic boycott of Israel has garnered the support of over four dozen politicians.  It amounts to a full-on assault against the ASA over its December decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions over their complicity with human rights abuses against Palestinians.

The Silver bill was publicized about two weeks after an even more punitive bill against the ASA was announced by two separate New York state Democrats, Dov Hikind and Jeff Klein.

The legislation set to be introduced by Silver will prohibit colleges and universities from giving state aid to organizations that support “discriminatory boycotts,” Capital’s Jessica Bakeman reports.

“Actions such as the American Studies Association’s discriminatory boycott of Israel and its academic institutions are a blatant assault on the academic freedoms that New York and its students have come to hold dear,” Silver said in a statement released Friday. “Colleges should not use taxpayer funds to support boycotts, resolutions or any similar actions that are discriminatory and limit academic opportunities.”  Silver’s press release announcing the bill added that “colleges violating the ban would not be eligible for state aid during the academic year in which the violation occurs.”

But the ASA does not receive direct funding from states, Curtis Marez, the ASA’s current president, told me in an e-mail.  While some students and faculty at state schools may use university funding to travel to ASA conventions, the amount is minimal. Under Silver’s bill, though, even that minimal funding would be cut off.

“Silver seems to be taking a page from disgraced former Harvard President Lawrence Summers who finds the boycott abhorrent and then turns around and proposes a boycott of the ASA,” said Marez.

The bill is similar in spirit to the one introduced by Hikind and Klein, who announced plans to pass a bill that would cut off state aid to schools that retain membership in the ASA.  (The bill’s logic is faulty, though: institutional membership in the ASA is usually limited to a specific department, not an entire school.)

The Hikind-Klein bill was criticized by universities, even if the schools are against the ASA boycott. “The solution to an ill-conceived boycott should not be legislation which itself appears to tread on academic freedom,” New York University spokesman John Beckman told the New York Daily News.

Efforts to condemn the ASA’s boycott of Israel are also picking up steam at the federal level, though no legislation targeting the ASA has been introduced.  Instead, a bipartisan letter criticizing the academic boycott has gained a number of signatures.  The missive is being circulated by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Doug Collins (R-GA) and Bradley Schneider (D-IL), the Times of Israel‘s Rebecca Shimoni Stoil reports.

“While ASA has every right to express its views on policies pursued by any nation or government, we believe that the decision to blacklist Israeli academic institutions for Israeli government policies with which ASA disagrees demonstrates a blatant disregard for academic freedom,” the letter reads in part. “Even more concerning is the singular targeting of Israel for boycott, which suggests thinly-veiled bigotry and bias against the Jewish State.”

The American Jewish Committee’s Government Affairs Twitter account sent out a number of “thank yous” to legislators who signed onto the letter:

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in Activism, BDS, Israel/Palestine, US Politics | Tagged , , ,

{ 17 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Citizen says:

    Figures, meanwhile, the wakeup of America continues on the Scott Horton show: link to scotthorton.org

    • SPEAKING OF THE SCOTT HORTON SHOW:
      01/09/14 Philip Weiss
      Philip Weiss, founder and co-editor of Mondoweiss.net, discusses John Kerry’s sincere but failed attempt to broker an Israel-Palestine deal; why Israel is making more demands and offering fewer concessions than ever before; and the Kirk-Menendez-Schumer “Wag the Dog Act” of 2014. (Duration: 29:21 — 13.4MB)
      LINK – link to scotthorton.org

  2. MHughes976 says:

    Is the ASA a private organisation financed by the subscriptions of its members or is it in receipt of public funds? Would the legislative attack have the effect of prohibiting ASA meetings on the premises of publicly -funded institutions?

  3. Sumud says:

    Thank you!!!

    …say I to these stupid bought and paid for politicians – and their patrons – who don’t understand that any publicity for or against BDS these days is good publicity.

    We have nothing to hide, whenever even vaguely reasonable people start to look into the situation in Israel/Palestine the full horror of it all unfolds. The hasbara comes crashing down, often followed by intense anger. People don’t like being lied to.

    • seafoid says:

      Sumud

      I think it is really dangerous. A lot of people see through hasbara at this stage. They see elite Jews on TV defend the indefensible. Something is going to break the spell the zionists have over the media and it won’t be pretty.

  4. I tend to doubt any of these initiatives by these lawmakers are going to pass muster and become law. It sounds like they want to punish the universities for hosting an organization that receives little or no financial support from the state, so it probably won’t make a dent. I think of greater concern would be if some of these lawmakers attempt to expand the Title VI clause on antisemitism to include speech or displays somehow deemed ‘anti-Israel’, although I don’t see how they would go about doing that without violating basic principles of free speech protections.

  5. RE: “The Hikind-Klein bill was criticized by universities, even if the schools are against the ASA boycott. ‘The solution to an ill-conceived boycott should not be legislation which itself appears to tread on academic freedom,’ New York University spokesman John Beckman told the New York Daily News.” ~ Kane

    MY COMMENT: Treading on academic freedom comes quite naturally to proto-fascists like Hikind!

    SEE: “New McCarthyism: Brooklyn College fires teacher who dared to speak out for Palestinian self-determination”, by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 1/31/11

    [EXCERPT] Kristofer Petersen-Overton, a political science doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center, has been fired from his position as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College one week before his course on Middle East politics was slated to begin. [LATER REINSTATED - link to mondoweiss.net ]
    The case was taken up by the Brooklyn College administration after a student enrolled in his course raised concerns that Mr. Petersen-Overton’s alleged pro-Palestinian bias would prevent him from conducting a balanced seminar. The student expressed these concerns with the political science department but agreed not to pursue further action until after the course actually began. However, this student contacted state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who then characterized Mr. Petersen-Overton as “pro-suicide bomber” in a letter to the college President.
    In a response sent to Hamodia newspaper on Wednesday, Mr. Petersen-Overton expressed concerns “that a state official would denounce my work so strongly without, apparently, having offered it more than a cursory reading. [Hikind’s] press release … is slander pure and simple.” Mr. Petersen-Overton emphasized that his work has little to do with suicide bombers and that Mr. Hikind deliberately twisted his conclusions to make it appear otherwise.
    The allegations against Mr. Petersen-Overton center on time he spent in the Gaza Strip working for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and on an unpublished scholarly paper ["Inventing the Martyr"] that analyzes the symbolic place of martyrdom in Palestinian nationalism. Petersen-Overton’s detractors also took issue with the fact that, according to his personal website, he still maintains “close contact” with the Palestinian activist community. . .

    SOURCE – link to mondoweiss.net

    P.S. FROM Anonymous @ Mondoweiss on May 11, 2011:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . In 1994, Brooklyn assemblyman Dov Hikind picked George Pataki for governor and Carl McCall for comptroller. That was huge politically. And so the buzz around Hikind mushroomed. 1994 also brought an end to Democratic control of Congress.
    By the spring of ’95, Hikind was throwing a fundraiser on the Inteprid, and word got out that Newt Gingrich would be making a special appearance. But in the end he didn’t. And the reason was Jerusalem and Hikind’s settler ties. Hikind’s wife, Shani Hikind, was an executive with the Jerusalem Reclamation Project.
    The JRP was involved in the Good Friday takeover of St. John’s Hospice back in 90 in Jerusalem (covered by Jeffrey Goldberg here ).
    At the time, that was even too much for Christian Zionists. Mindful of the fact that he was was holding a constitutional office in the line of succession, Newt never appeared at the Hikind bash. . .

    SOURCE – link to mondoweiss.net

    • P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Perry embraces violent Jewish extremists, Politico’s Ben Smith calls him ‘moderate’”, by Max Blumenthal , Mondoweiss, 1/21/11

      [EXCERPT] Yesterday, I attended Rick Perry’s press conference at the W Hotel in New York City, where the Texas Governor and Republican presidential frontrunner denounced President Barack Obama for supposedly “appeasing” America’s enemies in the Middle East and failing to sufficiently support Israel. The Perry appearance was timed to pre-empt Obama’s speech at the UN in which the President would reject Palestinian demands for statehood.
      The most remarkable aspect of Perry’s press conference was the cast of characters that assembled behind the Governor while he spoke. To Perry’s immediate right was Assemblyman Dov Hikind, the former leader of the Jewish Defense League, a terrorist group responsible for bombing attacks on numerous Arab-American targets and a conspiracy to murder Republican Rep. Darrell Issa. While Hikind’s collaborator Victor Vancier spent ten years in jail for firebomb attacks, Hikind was suspected by the FBI of numerous terror attacks of his own. After issuing numerous stentorian condemnations of terror, Perry handed the mic over to Hikind, who exclaimed, “I heard the Governor’s speeches and I said to myself, ‘He sounds like me!’” The two engaged in a sustained hug before a giant media gaggle. . .

      SOURCE – link to mondoweiss.net

  6. HRK says:

    This will probably have the effect of precipitating more boycotts. Hell hath no fury like a tenured professor scorned. . . .

  7. Krauss says:

    The Israel lobby is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
    There is no such thing.

  8. Betsy says:

    I would encourage folks to leave comments on a website link to therecoveringpolitician.com that has a petition to support the denunciations of the ASA by the presidents of University of Kentucky & University of Louisville. The petition was started by Jonathan Miller (former KY politician and self-described ‘liberal’ Zionist) who has a long history of smearing individuals and groups who are critical of Israeli policies — E.g., see Russ Greenleaf’s 2012 article in Mondoweiss on Jonathan Miller’s outright lies about the Presbyterian church’s debate on I/P link to mondoweiss.net